A recent study has shown that nineteenth century thermodynamics can still provide useful insights into twenty-first century nanosciences; and all this can be done with pencil and paper rather than an expensive super-computer! When the size of materials approaches the nanoscale, matter begins to behave highly exotically. By shrinking the size of materials, the surface-to-volume ratio increases. Considering this, scientists can study size effects on material properties from macroscopic laws, the so-called top-down approach. In thermodynamics, the Gibb's energy concept is particularly suited to describe the liquid-solid phase transition (what we mortals call the melting temperature).
Not surprisingly, it has been scientists in The Netherlands - a country that has long been conducting large-scale and long-term field studies on the benefits of certain plants to mental and physical health (scientists refer to this effort as the 'great coffee house smoke screen studies') - that have come up with a nanotechnology discovery that could well revolutionize many consumer products from food to toys. In a report released today, April 1, the Dutch scientists report that a nanoparticulate substance found in Cannabis sativa, also know as marijuana, has an amazing ability to kill fat cells in the human body. Hoping to ride an early wave of commercialization, the Dutch research group has already filed for patent protection and registered the trademark 'Royal Spliffmeister Edition' for a range of planned products.
When it comes to nanotechnologies, Americans have a big problem: Nanotechnology and its capacity to alter the fundamentals of nature, it seems, are failing the moral litmus test of religion. Survey results from the United States and Europe reveal a sharp contrast in the perception that nanotechnology is morally acceptable. Those views, according to the report, correlate directly with aggregate levels of religious views in each country surveyed. In the United States and a few European countries where religion plays a larger role in everyday life, notably Italy, Austria and Ireland, nanotechnology and its potential to alter living organisms or even inspire synthetic life is perceived as less morally acceptable. In more secular European societies, such as those in France and Germany, individuals are much less likely to view nanotechnology through the prism of religion and find it ethically suspect.
Scientists are intensely researching how animals like spiders and geckos generate the high adhesion force that allows them to cling to walls and walk on ceilings, feet over their head. While this research so far has focused on novel materials like carbon nanotubes to replicate spider feet and gecko toes, a key challenge for materials engineers is the scaling up of such materials from small animals to, say, spiderman gloves that support a fully grown human. Complementing the ongoing gecko biomimetic materials research, Nicola M. Pugno, an Associate Professor of Structural Mechanics at the Politecnico di Torino in Italy, has developed what he termed Adhesive Optimization Laws.
Titanium dioxide nanoparticles have become a commercially significant nanomaterial and are being used in products around the world - in cosmetics and sunscreen lotions, paint formulations, coatings, self-cleaning additives, even in antibacterial applications. The increased use of nanomaterials such as titania goes hand in hand with a growing number of reports on the risks associated with these materials, which have arisen because insufficient information has been gathered about their reactivity and stability once they leave the laboratory. Unfortunately, pinpointing every conceivable situation that nanoparticles could interact in is an enormous multi-parameter problem and solving this by experimental testing alone is not feasible due to the huge numbers of combinatorial variations. This is where theoretical predictions can help, by rapidly and systematically sampling possibilities, and highlighting where experimentalists should focus their attention.
Poll after poll shows that most people today, assuming they have even heard the term, don't understand what nanotechnology is. Those who have heard about it are often misinformed by science fiction books and movies or tend to either focus on hype or fear surrounding available information about nanotechnologies. A team of scientists have described the key issues quite nicely: There is a general recognition that few people understand the implications of the technology, the technology itself or even the definition of the word. This lack of understanding stems from a lack of knowledge about science in general but more specifically difficulty in grasping the size scale and symbolism of nanotechnology. A potential key to informing the general public is establishing the ability to comprehend the scale of nanotechnology. Transitioning from the macro to the nanoscale seems to require an ability to comprehend scales of one-billion. Scaling is a skill not common in most individuals and tests of their ability to extrapolate size based upon scaling a common object demonstrates that most individuals cannot scale to the extent needed to make the transition to nanoscale.
Travel through wormholes, time machines and hovering landspeeders are the stuff of science fiction novels. Nevertheless, scientists have suggested that the quantum mechanics of something called the Casimir effect can be used to produce a locally mass-negative region of space-time, a phenomenon that theoretically could be used to stabilize a wormhole to allow faster than light trave. For many years the Casimir effect was little more than a theoretical curiosity. With the advances in micro- and nanotechnology and the fact that the Casimir force affects nanoscale devices such as NEMS, research in detecting and manipulating this mysterious force has generated substantial interest. Now, the secretive DARPA, a research agency of the U.S. Department of Defense that often dabbles in far-out technologies - and that also brought us the Internet's predecessor ARPANET - is soliciting innovative research proposals in the area of Casimir Effect Enhancement.
The term 'mechanical engineering' generally describes the branch of engineering that deals with the design and construction and operation of machines and other mechanical systems. Students training to become engineering professionals have to delve into subjects such as instrumentation and measurement, thermodynamics, statics and dynamics, heat transfer, strengths of materials and solid mechanics with instruction in CAD and CAM, energy conversion, fluid dynamics and mechanics, kinematics, hydraulics and pneumatics, engineering design and so on. If you are currently doing coursework in mechanical engineering, better add nanotechnology courses to your core curriculum.